Hyderabad: Australia's propensity to make the sweep shot a go-to option on turning tracks came back to bite them on Monday (March 4) as India assumed command of the second Test.
The middle day of a Test is generally considered the moving day, and so it turned out at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium. The game hadn't been in the balance when play began on the third morning - India were well clear of Australia in the ascendancy stakes - but by the time the dust settled after six hours of gripping action, India had Australia in a bind after having opened up a 266-run lead on the first count.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara had extended their second-wicket stand to an Indian record 370 - India's fourth highest partnership ever - and not even a late flurry of wickets triggered by Glenn Maxwell, the debutant offspinner, and Xavier Doherty could prevent India from opening up a potentially game-sealing advantage. Pujara completed his second double ton in only his 11th Test, along the way becoming the second quickest Indian to 1000 Test runs in 18 innings (Vinod Kambli had crossed 1000 runs in 14 innings), while Vijay was dismissed for 167, their partnership primarily responsible for India's imposing 503.
Australia would have gone into the tea interval with mixed feelings. While they would have been happy that they cleaned up the Indian lower order in quick time - the last six wickets were shot out for 43 runs in 89 deliveries - they would also have been deeply introspective and apprehensive, given that five of those six had fallen to the spinners.
For nearly an hour and a quarter, Ed Cowan and David Warner kept India at bay, both riding their luck after seeing catches being put down. Then, out of nowhere, Warner played a sweep to R Ashwin and lost leg stump, shortly before Phillip Hughes was dismissed likewise by the same bowler. By stumps, Australia had reached 74 for 2, needing a further 192 to avoid an innings defeat.
Until Warner's moment of madness that allowed them a breather, India looked a little impatient and on edge. It didn't help that Virat Kohli at gully put down Warner on 13 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni dropped Ed Cowan off the inside edge when still on nought, both off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Ashwin was erratic as he shared the new ball with Bhuvneshwar, being punished for three fours in his first over by Warner, who quitened down after that frenetic start.
Bhuvneshwar continued to remain a threat till such time that he bowled, but it was once Ashwin settled down that India were somewhat lifted. Cowan and Warner brought up their second half-century stand in three innings without looking totally at ease, though they did handle Ashwin, largely bowling from around the stumps and getting slow turn and some bounce, without too much alarm.
Prodded by Dhoni, Ashwin switched to over the stumps and almost immediately struck paydirt courtesy Warner's sweep to a ball of awkward length that dictated that the stroke was the wrong option. Hughes obviously hadn't learnt the lesson. Scoreless against spin in his last two innings, he too perished to the sweep the ball after Ashwin changed his angle and went back over the stumps; his last 39 deliveries faced against spin this series have brought him no runs and seen him being dismissed four times. Not what Australia would have expected of their No. 3.
Cowan, chancily, and Shane Watson saw the team through to the close without further damage, and have a fight on their hands on the morrow when India will look to press home the advantage.
That's exactly what India did on the third morning - drive home their advantage - when Vijay and Pujara kicked on from 311 for 1. Vijay began with a flurry of boundaries, quickly bringing up his 150, while Pujara was silken smooth once again. The pair eased past the record Indian second-wicket stand of 344* between Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar against the West Indies in Calcutta in 1978-79, and looked good for many more when Maxwell produced a snorter that flew to leg slip off Vijay's glove.
Sachin Tendulkar walked in to rapturous applause from 25,700 people in the stands after having had to wait for 109.4 overs since the fall of the first wicket - the most overs he has had to wait for his chance in Test cricket. He was at hand to congratulate Pujara on reaching 200 and pat him on the back when he was caught on the pull off James Pattinson, and then waited an eternity before an Australian shout for caught down leg off Pattinson was upheld by the third umpire. The crowd's disappointment quickly evaporated when Dhoni arrived in a blaze of boundaries, making his and India's intent clear.
Doherty was smashed for three fours in one over, Peter Siddle for two and Maxwell for two in a tow as India piled on the misery in searing heat. Dhoni fell in trying to continue to force the pace, caught at the second attempt at mid-off by an alert Doherty to set off the late collapse.
Australia caught brilliantly and bowled probingly through Doherty and Maxwell, benefiting from India's desire to take the fight to the opposition and the quirky nature of the surface. They then carried that momentum forward when they began their second innings, but Warner's rush of blood and Hughes's mounting problems against the turning ball have now left them with a mountain to climb.